“I remembered my songs in the night.”  Psalm 77:6

During the darkest of nights, sometimes all you have is a song. During our first born daughter’s earliest days, she suffered from what we could only guess was colic. Carrie and I would take turns walking, bouncing, and vainly trying to comfort her incessant cries, especially at night. Both of us sang lullabies, some traditional and some of our own desperate composition, offering our own consolations as best we could. In those dark nights, the line would blur between singing to comfort Jenna and singing to console myself.

At least two Psalms mention songs that are sung in the night. Not surprisingly, both are individual psalms of lament, prayers in which the psalmist cries out to God in pain. Psalm 42 describes a personal crisis that has the poet distraught, wondering aloud if God has forgotten him. In verse 8, the Psalmist reflects on God’s comfort amidst the pain: “By day the Lord commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life.” Psalm 77 voices a desperate prayer, lamenting the apparent absence of God. But verse 6 confesses “I remembered my songs in the night,” as if the Psalmist is desperately clinging to any shred of hope by singing songs. In Acts 16, after Paul and Silas have been arrested, flogged, and imprisoned for allegedly “disturbing the peace” and “advocating unlawful customs,” they too sing their songs in the night. “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God” (Acts 16:25).

I would love to know what songs in the night were sung by Korah (Psalm 42), Asaph (Psalm 77), and Paul and Silas (Acts 16). My hunch is that these songs would have sounded a lot like the songs found in the Psalms and in fragments here and there throughout Scripture (see Philippians 2:5-11 and Colossians 1:15-20 for examples of what many scholars believe were early Christian hymns). I imagine songs of trust in God (even as expressed through lament) as well as honest pleas for help; such songs would anticipate songs we sing today: “Be With Me Lord, I Cannot Live Without Thee”, “Amazing Grace, How Sweet the Sound,” and “In His Presence (There is Comfort).”

Daniel Levitin, in his book “This Is Your Brain on Music,” observes, “Music is unusual among all human activities for both its ubiquity and its antiquity. No known human culture now or anytime in the recorded past lacked music…Whenever humans come together for any reason, music is there: weddings, funerals, graduation from college, men marching off to war, stadium sporting events, a night on the town, prayer, a romantic dinner, mothers rocking their infants to sleep, and college students studying with music as a background.” It should come as no surprise that we humans would have songs in the night or that people of faith would sing out to God during their dark times.

During the darkest of nights, sometimes all you have is a song. And as you sing, remember that you’re in the well-traveled company of the saints, ancient and contemporary!

Andy Wall
Author: Andy Wall